Dune, The Silence Of The Lambs, County Lines and others – Screen Time October 2021

Not the cheeriest of months… well, as long as we don’t count the Paw Patrol movie. Although I am partial to kids’ fare (which, in my view, requires extraordinary skill to pull off well), I must point out that this particular cinematic offering was enforced viewing as part of a childcare stint. But rules is rules, so it must be recorded on these pages. Mind you, it was a more-than-passable time filler, with plenty of vivid, screen-popping visuals to entertain my young companion. It didn’t move me to explore the eponymous pooches’ TV output, although I was pleased to have the opportunity to discover what’s fed to little ones on the small screen these days. But more than anything else, I was intrigued by the curious accent choices of the characters: many spoke with identifiably British voices, but while using American vocab and construction. Some bizarre form of cultural imperialism in action?

I may have typed too soon about the lack of cheer. One more lightweight feature was notched up in October, during another ‘duty’ session: the original Lion King from 1994. It stands up well, but my co-viewer declared (quite rightly) that Bambi is better. And perhaps I ought to include Jaws in this non-hefty category as well. I’ve never been an ardent fan to what’s commonly referred to as the first summer blockbuster, but I happily settled down to it as a form of preparation for the superb play, The Shark Is Broken, currently on a West End run. What can I say: I enjoyed rewatching it, even as I chuckled at the earnest naffness of it all. I know I’m not the first to make this point, but it really is true that the finest sequences are those prior to the shark’s appearance, highlighting Spielberg’s abilities to create tension seemingly by doing nothing at all. 

The remainder of the month’s viewing delved into darker territories, both metaphorically and aesthetically. Abigail’s Party (technically a play filmed for TV, but now possessed of sufficient stature to warrant inclusion in a cinematic write-up) wasn’t without its moments of high comedy. But in true Mike Leigh style, each came dripping with acid, with every round of drinks leading closer and closer to a conclusion that managed to be both absurd and moving. This is correctly hailed as a classic of 1970s social observation, and many of its insights ring true today. The film’s peculiarly British style of realism was also on display in County Lines (dir. Henry Blake) albeit in an entirely manner. Performances of almost documentary-like accuracy were the outstanding feature of this story of a young boy drawn into the world of drug trafficking. And even if some of the pacing didn’t always ring true, there’s no denying the anger and the passion behind this presentation of a profoundly troubling modern problem.

Certainly, the loudest film of the month was Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, although it had much to offer beyond Hans Zimmer’s take-no-prisoners score. I have no desire to be churlish about a glossy epic that skimmed over its bloated running time with the elegance displayed by the ingenious vehicles on screen. So much here worked beautifully, from the performances, to the handling of the plot and the juxtaposition of quieter moments with more explosive sequences. But throughout my time on Arrakis, I couldn’t shake off a sense of disappointment that the designers didn’t feel bold enough to move away from visual tropes we’ve seen one time too many, specifically in relation to the costumes, and the depiction of desert dress codes (ie Middle Eastern garb) versus off-world ones (read: ‘western’ gear). Perhaps, 8,000 years from now, women belonging to secretive religious movements will still be wearing dark veils, but it would have been gratifying to see at least an attempt to offer different concepts and ideas in this area. That said, I will be amongst the first queuing for part 2.

A young man’s journey of (somewhat more doomed) self-discovery was also the central thrust of Martin Eden, Pietro Marcello’s adaptation of the Jack London novel, with the action moved from America to Italy. Although the final act was too rushed, with the effect of diminishing the title character’s descent into self-destruction, most of what came before was unforced and affecting.

And finally, the very darkest sides of humanity were explored in The Sorrow And The Pity (Marcel Ophuls’ masterful documentary about WWII collaboration in rural France) and The Silence Of The Lambs (Jonathan Demme’s equally insightful take on the Thomas Harris novel about the complex interaction between a novice FBI agent and a serial killer.) In no way do I wish to trivialise the suffering caused during the Second World War by comparing it with what is, in many ways, an edge-of-your-seat thriller. I’m actually attempting the reverse: ever since I first saw it, I’ve asserted that Lambs is one of the most probing, humane and intelligent examinations of the human psyche. And it is in that sense that I think it deserves to be given a place next to the Ophuls; they both stare right into the core of the bleakest of human hearts, and they both succeed in finding the glimmers of light we all need to see in order to hold on to some sort of faith.

Dariush

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